street culture..

Posted: February 3, 2007 in Uncategorized

Streetwise Kudos

Pitched against a backdrop of Cairo 4pm traffic and attempting to access the most land-locked of Cairo districts at that particular time-downtown. Three vigilantes roam the streets in search of someone to sing kudos of the status quo. And even though they had a hard time finding someone that thinks it all pretty and pink, they left feeling good about their efforts.

It’s kinda like Cairo’s pollution, sahaba el sowda [lit. black cloud], this poisonous cumulus that engulfs the capital, yet manages still to capture the hues of the sunset- though it may lend a dirty tone to colors divine, the sunset remains beautiful.

Pt. I

Small talk


“Haven’t been watching it for two years now, but I was watching only Egyptian TV until 2years back. It’s hilarious, unique, for the sole reason that no other place can host so many mistakes”. Fuck-ups, an abundance of hypocrisy, and unbelievable cheap ass-kissing to the regime are the main characteristics mentioned by Amgad Naguib, arts collector/dealer based in downtown.

“You can learn a lot from Egyptian TV by reading between the lines. When an official or NDP is promising or answering something, you can really tell when they’re lying. They should watch it themselves- it’s hilarious. As for entertainment- it is of no value.”

Not true of everyone though. Florent is French and has been living and playing the saxophone in Egypt for years.. “I like Egyptian cinema, especially the black and whites, the movies are similar to the French style. The music though is very monotonous, no variety.”

To some extent Kaare Troelsen agrees, a Danish homeopath that thinks of Egypt as home, “I used to love the old movie that they showed on the weekends. Me and my friends used to find it very funny, especially the way some programs were directed, or the décor on some of the sets, totally out of context, just anything thrown together. What was the name of that strange show on Wednesdays that had the different stuff? It means ‘this show is for you’, yes Ekhaterna lak. We used to wait around for this show wondering what strange things it will have tonight.”

As for the picture portrayed on the tube as opposed to real everyday life situations- “quite different”, continues Florent, “compared to the street, TV is quite open. There is more freedom of expression, a discourse on talk shows, but only on TV, there is no dialogue in real life.”

“TV doesn’t correspond to reality here. It’s either a bizarre mix of things or very Americanized. I used to like the old baladi commercials, but they‘re gone.” echoes Kaare.

Amgad agrees, “they try to say, we’re good, we’re fine and progressing to a brighter tomorrow even if it isn’t really so. Through my workshop in Abdeen I deal with many poor people, who get by on 200-300 le/month (and up to 600 le), and they see in Egyptian dramas, soaps, and ads, a lifestyle..people who own villas and yachts, or a model in some ad talking about ‘how she got her kitchen real cheap and only paid 25,000 pounds’- how does this affect the poorer majority of the population, how does watching this make them feel?

Women’s Rights

“I used to think they have no rights till I went to India. Now I think women in Egypt have much more rights and power in society. of course it could be better”, shares Kaara. “On TV women look free, but in reality they’re not”, starts Florent. “Women rights in Arab countries are an upsetting topic. Some French friends feel unsafe walking downtown after the assaults. Egyptian guys miss many elements of any normal relationship between males and females. It’s a need, a need to express yourself, as well a s a lack of affection.”

“On one side you have the women’s council receiving millions in funds to aid women, but you don’t touch any real effect, or positive influence. The poor just get poorer and poorer. Women are no closer to receiving rights than before. Maybe a certain class, the upper class, who know how to fend for their rights, but the majority of Egyptian women- definitely not”, says Amgad in retrospect, “the downtown assaults were horrible and scary, as my wife and I live close to where it happened. It was, in my opinion, a revolution, or the making of one- the first explosion. The guys knew that the police would do nothing to them. Next there will be an even bigger explosion. You heard what the Australian mufti [religious scholar who gives final word on public everyday queries] said a couple of weeks before the assaults when asked about the importance of the veil- ‘you can’t blame a cat for grabbing a piece of meat’ he replied, illustrating unveiled women as a piece of meat. As for the whole parliamentary discussion where Faruq Husni brought up the issue of hejab or the veil, the parliament and NDPs arguments portrayed unveiled women as cheap [probably unbeknownst to them].”

Governmental Policies & Reform

“Since I’ve been back everyone seems to be telling me things are getting worse, the rich getting richer, the poor poorer”, starts Kaare, “but one thing I did notice was how bad the traffic had become. They should start using bicycles, or improve the underground and public transportation. In Europe everyone uses public transportation. Here, the car is such a statement that people own a car before owning a fridge. They have to do something about promoting awareness that the car is not such a status symbol. As for the bird flu crisis worldwide, I think its manufactured. Bird flu has existed for centuries and probably over centuries, man and animal have died of it. What’s new is that we learned to test for it in the past 50 years and in that time it has never mutated. I don’t think 50 years ago people would pick up dead birds and test them. What is new is this fascination with epidemics, it seems the world is being propelled to mass hysteria, what do you know maybe the drug companies have something in store for us.”

Political and economic reform are a joke in most circles as demonstrated by the way they handled bird flu situation. That crisis was handled in a very Egyptian way. They freaked the people out. The first day I was walking down Bab el Khalq and all bird owners had set their poultry loose on the streets. Chickens, pigeons and ducks where running all over the place with little children chasing them- absolutely hilarious. The way they kept the people on a need to know basis offered no transparency. Today in el Masri el Youm, the head of the doctor’s syndicate was talking about how it’s gonna be even bigger this time with the fatality rate rising to 100% [basically if you get it, you die]. Yet you hear nothing on TV, no one’s educating the people, there isn’t any awareness. As for traffic they need to resolve at least three issues before it gets better; first, it has to be harder to issue driving licenses, 2nd, you should never be allowed to double park and 3rd, they have to take care of corruption within the police, what good is it if I double-park knowing fully that 10le would solve the equation and safe-guard my car from getting towed away or clamped. Employment is another story, now you have university graduates that end up driving cabs or street-vending or girls that carry heavy bags and visit café customers trying to persuade them to buy any of their Chinese products. There’s nothing wrong with an honest attempt to better your chances, but it’s a lot of work for a little money. As for internal policy we all know we don’t have one. It’s really random, chaotic, to propel the rich to get richer, as poor people slave in the machinations that benefit the rich. We used to have a great perspective with outside countries, we had a very popular foreign policy, but no longer. We cannot even maintain what used to be a favorable relationship between sister states in Africa or Nile-basin countries. In the meantime, the population of street kids is at an all-time high, and they’re getting angrier and angrier. Pretty soon it’ll be catastrophic. I find it hard to believe that there is no system that can be introduced into their lives that can contribute to their becoming productive elements of society.

Pt. II

Affirmative street pulse

Haja Umm Arabi: TV is meya meya [100% meaning perfect]

In what way?

Haja Umm Arabi: It’s nice, entertaining and educates the kids, meshi?

Meshi, and satellite channels?

Haja Umm Arabi: Also meya meya, it shows nice Qoran, nice people who say nice things

Is what we see on TV, really what we come across in everyday life?

Haja Umm Arabi: It’s what we see everyday, what we experience in real life; it’s exactly what we see in Egyptian dramas.

Haj Abdel Fattah: he’s recording [laughs]

Haja Umm Arabi: let him record as he pleases

What do you think of women’s rights here in Egypt?

Haja Umm Arabi: Wakhda haqaha tallet wi mtallet [she enjoys every aspect of her rights], and now, after the khlol’e divorce laws], the word has become hers and the decree is hers

Did you hear of the commotion that happened in Eid?

Haj Abdel Fattah: this is the worst kind of evil

In what way?

Haj AF: This is a day of eid [feast], it’s against the will of heaven to even harm a fly. Flies hurt us when they land on dirty things then come in contact with us, yet it isn’t right to harm even a fly on that day.

Haja UA: he’s talking about something else

Haj AF: no he’s talking about Saddam’s execution. It’s the biggest sin to kill a man. So instead of the sheep they slew Saddam.

What about the eid assaults in downtown?

Haja UA: we don’t know much about it [mariam and I attempt an explanation]

Oh yes I heard about that. No that would not be pleasing to God.

Haj AF: what happened?

Haja UA: it’s like young guys raped 2 or 3 girls

No, not to that extent..

Haj AF: of course this is wrong. Would they wish that upon their mothers and sisters. These days the girls are different, girls now tempt guys to hit on them, before it was not like this [this bad] even though we had a lot of foreigners living here.

You think we should blame the girls who got assaulted and not the guys?

Haja UA: no, there are many good girls.

Haj AF: also guys have no employment opportunities these days, no marriage. This is the reason behind the increase of indecencies. If I’m happy and content and you drop your wallet, once I find it I’ll keep it for you till you come asking. On the other hand, if I’m hungry.. That can be another story. 3 years back, an employee in el sharq el awsat forgot a bag right where the strawberries are now, with 25..

Haja UA: 27..thousand pounds. He went home and slept and came back the next day to find them I kept them in my gallabeyya.

What do you think of government policies and our economic reform?

Haj AF: our government is 99% a failure. To make a long story short, how can someone be an imam [leading in prayers] and I’m praying behind them, if they are a failure [good for nothing] then my prayer will not be accepted [I will not account to much either]. Officials are never content, that’s what I love about foreigners, they take what’s theirs and leave you what yours. I’m illiterate but I hope that our government can create a good project that utilizes the energies of our youth and unites them. Give them some of the money that you’re investing outside. What goes out never comes back in. university graduates since 1980 still cannot find a job. And if you make 200le a month how can you live when a kilo of meat is 30le.

How do you think the government handled the bird flu crisis?

Haj AF: It seemed that some people had masaleh [interests] in such a situation. They [government] handled it in a way that devastated some and benefited others. The big guys that had vast poultry farms were not in the least affected, the small traders were put out of business. Of them, my son in law, sold his wife’s jewelry and had to bury the chickens alive. Some of the big guys were even buying off the traders going out of business.

What about traffic?

Haj AF: we have got to become more practical. Things are complicated as it is without having us add to it. For example, today in Opera sq. an officer was stopping young men in private cars to check for their license. Now what is the likelihood of a young man in a private car at 10am having stolen the car he’s in? I want to ask you; in Europe do they hold up the traffic because some official is moving from place to place. Do they make 2000 foot soldiers stand by the road so he can pass? Aren’t all of these expenses?

Haja UA: they’re gonna lock you up?

Haj AF: let them…2al hayeskhattuk ya erd hayemellook ghazal [they said to the monkey we’re gonna make monstrosity out of you, we’’ turn you into a gazelle]. Laughs.

Haja UA: you’ll get locked up

Haj AF: aah hartebeest.. Yes I will. I worked in Saudi and saw the king on the streets with my own eyes. Here I’ve witnessed king Faruq used to come from abdeen square riding a carriage. And on his happier days he’d use his red carriage.

What do you think of US policy?

Haj AF: I don’t talk politics. I can’t read.

The UN?

Haj AF: For some countries and not for some. You have to consider the possibility that countries too might be unjust.

Mariam: if you could change one thing in Egypt what would it be?

Haj AF: I don’t know

Haja UA: I want them to move me to Qanater. I’m an old woman, 65, and it takes me two hours to come in the mornings and two hours to go home late at night.

Haj AF: when they make a change it should be for the better. For example, the minister of finance made a few changes, some were good others not. How can you exempt those who have not paid taxes and have cases standing against them, and yet not exempt the outstanding interest of those who did pay. A tax inspector came and suddenly I found that I owed le 50,000 since 1965 when I was a street vendor and before I got the kiosk and then the store. The 10 became 20,000 in compound interest. So it became that every month I pay le 250, 200 is interest and le50 goes to repay the taxes I owe. It used to be that there were different levels in society, now it’s the very very rich, and the very poor. Officers have ranks, and that’s the way society was, now its either generals or ghaffir [rural foot soldiers].

Logos.. Islam

Illegal parking.. Mariam

Humor and tech.. Ayman



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